Due to Covid-19, many of us are unable to spend time with our loved ones. Writer Chris Wasser (32) is heartbroken that the pandemic has prevented him from being with his twin, Frank, who lives in London
It’s 11 months since I last saw my twin brother in the flesh. Just thinking about it now makes my head hurt. My heart, too. It was February 14, 2020 and Frank — the other half of me, and the only one in the Wasser family who decided to make a life for himself abroad — had arrived in from the UK for a weekend visit. I was enjoying a Valentine’s meal with my wife at a city-centre restaurant when suddenly my phone rang. I knew he was in town, and we’d planned to meet him later that night. But I didn’t expect him to join us for dinner.
In he walked, cold, famished and carrying a bag over his shoulder. “Mind if I join yas?” he asked. We welcomed him with open arms. Afterwards, we retired for drinks at the Crafty Fox pub on Camden Row, where two things happened. One: We drank an extraordinary amount of Guinness. Two: we chatted briefly about a mystery virus that had started to cause ripples overseas. It was quite the session. Eventually, we said our goodbyes and I promised to see him the following month for our niece’s confirmation.
That never happened.
Eleven months — that’s the longest we’ve gone without seeing one another. In December, we celebrated Christmas via WhatsApp and Zoom. I was in Dublin — he couldn’t come home. Frank (always the clever one) had arranged for gifts to be delivered. I wish I’d thought of that. I opened the packages in front of a screen and thanked him for his generosity. Afterwards, I made a coffee in the kitchen and had a little cry.
We’d never celebrated Christmas apart. Frank moved to London 10 years ago, but he’d always come home for the holidays. We have a noisy tradition in our gaff. The entire Wasser clan (mum, dad, siblings, aunt, uncle, cousins, dog) sets up shop at the old family homestead in Dublin 8. Fifteen of us under the one roof, laughing, bickering, singing, arguing, eating, sleeping, drinking, bickering some more, you know the drill.
Every year on Christmas morning, Frank and I open our gifts together, each of us eyeing up what the other received and occasionally swapping the odd clanger while the parents aren’t watching (sorry, folks).
That didn’t happen last month. I don’t know what gifts my parents had for Frank and it’ll be a while before I find out. Eleven months — I really am struggling to get my head around that.
There was a time when Frank and I were inseparable. We were born three weeks premature at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street on January 21, 1988. My mum was six months pregnant when she found out she was expecting twins. Apparently, my folks’ reaction was one of joy and happiness, but I don’t know if they’re being entirely honest there. Two lads at the same time? That’s gotta be a little scary.
Frank arrived in this world 12 minutes before I made my entrance. To this day, it’s the only peace I’ve ever experienced. Together we were an extra-large bundle of joy. I don’t remember much about being a baby (does anyone?), but the toddler years are crystal clear. Frank did nothing at this age. He just sat there laughing — always laughing — while I tried to come up with new and inventive ways to amuse him. I was a handful; noisy, rowdy, jealous, impatient and an awful pain in the backside. It was so bad that my family came up with a nickname for me. They called me Damien.
Still, having Frank around as a sort of built-in sidekick/one-man audience was a blast. We have an older sister, Vicky, and together we make for one hell of a trinity. But she knows the truth — Frank and I would always share a unique bond, the likes of which nobody in our family could understand.
We were the only Wasser twins. For 18 years, he was the first person I saw when I woke up and the last person I spoke to at night. We shared a bedroom, a school desk, books, toys, games, music, hobbies, mates — the whole shebang. We wore matching outfits. Everyone called us ‘The Boys’. We came as a pair, and believe you me, that didn’t always make for an easy living. We wrecked each other’s heads — we still do. But it was never boring. Plus, we’re fraternal twins, we don’t look like each other, and we’ve always been extraordinarily thankful for that small nugget of individuality.
We went our separate ways after school, which was tough, but like most siblings we eventually found a way to shape and mould our adult lives around one another. He was my best man at my wedding in 2019. He was the only man for the job. Eleven months — nope, I still can’t believe it.
I’ve spent most of the last year indoors with my wife and I don’t have much to complain about. I get to share my life with the person I love. We have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and we both — so far — have managed to stay safe and healthy. But it’s almost a year since I last set foot in my parents’ house. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve stood in the same garden as Vicky and her children. The distance between me and Frank, however, is incalculable.
A year apart from one another and what have I learned? That it’s bloody hard, man. Yes, Frank has lived in London for most of his adult life, but we’ve always made trips back and forth to see one another. We’ve been there for every important occasion, every celebration, every bump, mishap and adventure along the way. We’ve shared it all. And, though we’ve tried, a virtual life with my brother just isn’t the same. Like a long-distance relationship that has started to stall (yes, I did just compare Frank and I to a romantic couple), our brotherhood has taken an awful hit this past year.
He’s had a particularly rough time of it. Frank is an artist and art historian and, due to Covid-19, his livelihood has been affected in ways he never thought possible. He also lives with Crohn’s disease and his medication puts him at high risk of infection. Basically, the pandemic has taken a severe toll on his personal and professional life, and it kills me that I’m not there to help him.
Sure, we keep in touch through Zoom and every other social portal you can think of. We text every day. We check in on each other’s well-being. But I’m not there. Video calls are a gift — without them, we’d be lost.
But where the rewards are plentiful, so too are the disadvantages. What started out as a novelty has now become something of a hindrance, and though a lengthy Zoom call with my brother allows for our worlds to co-exist, it also flattens them. Our entire lives revolve around monitors with which our patience is quickly running thin. It was fine when I knew I’d get to see him every couple of months, but a whole year? It’s too long.
When Frank and I talk now, we give each other the headlines. We do our best to solve one another’s problems quickly and to keep each other’s chins up.
We’ve always talked about real things, and that’s important — that’s what keeps us sane. Alas, neither of us wants to stare at a phone or a laptop for three hours, and you have to pick and choose your topics over video calls. Screen bonding is exhausting, and I need to be in the same room as him. I need my pal back.
Frank knows me better than I know myself, and I’m certain I could tell you more about him than he’d care to admit. We’re more than brothers, more than best friends (though we never really had a choice in that matter). He gets me, because in a way, he is me. When you’re a twin, you’re born with a partner and an ally. I’ve always looked out for him and taken care of him, and he’s done the same for me.
As children, we kept each other entertained. We kept each other safe. We could relate to one another because we were, in a sense, living the same life.
As grown men, it’s our job to do the same; to assist and lend a hand with other’s heads, hearts and happiness, and to try and figure out what it means to be an adult. Because I still don’t know how that works. But it helps to have someone by your side who is in exactly the same position — someone with whom you literally entered this world. He’s a part of me, and always will be.
That’s the kind of bond that some people never find. We’re a package deal, the twin and me, and I miss him dearly. We turn 33 next week and it will be the first birthday that we’ve spent apart. I don’t know how that’s going to feel, and I don’t yet know when we’ll be in the same room together again.
But I am certain of one thing: when that day comes, and when I do finally see him again, I’ll have trouble letting go. Sending hugs, brother, and lots of them.